Under My Skin, the first volume of Doris Lessing's account of her own life, has already established itself as one of the great modern autobiographies. In Walking in the Shade, scenes of her childhood and adolescence, and the struggles with her family, are replaced by those of post-war London - bomb-damaged, food-rationed, utility-dressed, cold, dark London - and the battles, both personal and political, of the 1950s.
Doris Lessing arrived in England in 1949, with a small child, £150 and the manuscript of The Grass Is Singing. It found publishes in Britain, Europe and America, and its success was almost immediate. Doris Lessing was soon recognised as one of the most important new writers of the hopeful, post-war generation. She worked in what would now be considered nearly impossible circumstances - always poor (the general condition of the times), living in lodgings, and above all, consumed by the difficulties of being what is now called a single mother.
Walking in the Shade describes how communism dominated the intellectual life of the 1950s, and the re-creation of that cast of mind, with all its idealism and sense of responsibility for the world, is perhaps the book's most striking achievement. Doris Lessing is open and frank about her involvement with communism, and attempts to explain why a whole generation of some of the most humane and socially-concerned people embraced and excused the horrors of the Soviet Union: her explanation is not flattering, but credible.
Doris Lessing's personal progress away from post-war deprivation, her growing reputation as a writer, and her increasing earnings, were part of a general ascent. Europe made the extraordinary leap into optimism and affluence: the heavy depression of the war atmosphere had gone and London was full of the new youth. She was one of the Angry Young Men - Kenneth Tynan, John Osborne, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, Arnold Wesker - all of whom she knew well: she was considered a Royal Court writer, and was much involved with the theatre with Each His Own Wilderness and Play with a Tiger. She describes the Campaign for Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament, the Committee of a Hundred, the Aldermaston Marches, with appearances by E.P. Thompson, Bertrand Russell, and - unexpectedly - Henry Kissinger. She was also engaged in amorous adventures (with passion and immediacy she recalls the man whom she imagined to be the love of her life), and some of her tales are very funny. The book ends in 1962, with the writing of The Golden Notebook, about whose genesis she writes informatively and unexpectedly and at length.
Walking in the Shade is full of Doris Lessing's strong and direct thinking about love, money, politics and people. It recreates the chaotic way all of us experience our lives, and the fragmentary nature of memory. Again and again, Doris Lessing takes its readers to a new understanding, and then with a final turn of the screw, opens up a further, unexpected perspective. Shrewd and clear-sighted, Walking in the Shade is a slice of social history as well as an account of Doris Lessing's Sentimental Education.